Book Review: “Loving the way Jesus loves” by Philip Ryken




I’m doing everything I can to stop a particular phrase that’s going around my part of the world: “we just need to love on those people.” I don’t mind when we try to express a sentiment in a shorthand way, even if it is grammatically horrific. But when it comes to exhorting people to love others, I am convinced that most of us have not a clue what that actually means. I really don’t know how or what it is to “love on” people.

This is why I was so engaged when I read Philip Ryken’s Loving the Way Jesus Loves. His book is a look at “the love chapter”: 1 Corinthians 13. In that chapter, Paul gives us exhortations about being kind, forbearing, forgiving, and so on. Still, I can hear myself saying “yes, but what does that really look like?” This is where Ryken’s aim is so simple, but much-needed:

So if we want to know what the Love Chapter looks like when it is lived out, all we need to do is look at the person and work of Jesus Christ. (p. 33)

The beauty of the book lies in its simplicity. In each chapter he takes an attribute of love (for want of a better description), explains it, and then wonderfully weaves in a story from a Gospel that demonstrates Jesus’ way of love.

Normally, I don’t enjoy books that are in this mould. The ones I have read become too predictable, and thus boring. Or, they rely on sheer guilt—“look at Jesus, go and do likewise”. This isn’t the case with this book. Ryken manages to talk frankly about our lives and our actions without being a simple moralist:

The Love Chapter is not for lovers, primarily, but for all the loveless people in the church who think that their way of talking about God, or worshiping God, or serving God, or giving to God is better than everyone else’s. (p. 19)

He follows this up with: “Jesus is everything that I am not… This realization does not crush me; it liberates me, because the love of Jesus is so big that he loves even me” (29). His entire approach is grace-driven, rather than performance-oriented. He concludes the book with:

When we read that love never fails, we know immediately that we fall short of God’s perfection. […] Our love often fails. Indeed, we fail to love as much as we fail at anything else in life.

It is when we run out of love, especially, that we need to remember the never-failing love of Jesus. When Scripture says that nothing can separate us from the love of God, this includes our own feeble efforts to love like Jesus. As we try and often fail to love, we are at the very same time being loved by God, because we can never be separated from that love! (pp. 189-90)

What the book does well is what any encounter with Jesus in his Word should do for me: compel me to love others because of his mercy and kindness towards me. It doesn’t just compel me though, it shows me specific ways I need to “love on” those around me—how to bear all things, the extent of forgiveness, and what to do with all those irritating people in my life.

Loving the Way Jesus Loves teaches doctrine and Christian living by tying it to the love of Jesus. So, when Ryken talks about evangelism, it is on the topic of love:

The greatest kindness that we can ever show to anyone is to share the gospel. So be kind to neighbours and strangers in the kindest way: by inviting them to church, talking with them about spiritual things, and testifying to them about Jesus Christ. The loving work of personal evangelism is the greatest kindness in the world. (p. 41)

Other topics such as justification by faith alone (p. 24), grace (p. 70), trust (p. 82), service (p. 171) are wrapped up, as they should be, in a discussion of love and the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Because the book does so many things so well—teach, exhort, compel—it is an excellent book to read with others in any kind of disciple-making opportunity (there is a study guide included in the book). It will do much more than fill in the meaning of “loving on others”. It will take you to the heart of what it means to love God and others with your whole heart and mind.

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